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Bioreactor Designs for Rapid Fermentation

Calysta Energy
ARPA-E Award: 
Menlo Park, CA
Project Term: 
01/06/2014 to 01/05/2015
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
Natural gas can be found in abundance throughout the United States, and is often used for heating, cooking, and electrical power generation. Natural gas is composed primarily of methane, an energy-rich compound not widely used for transportation. Currently, there are no commercially viable biological approaches to convert methane into liquid fuel, and synthetic approaches are expensive and inefficient at small scales. To take advantage of the country's remote natural gas resources, such as off-shore methane, new biological processes that use special microorganisms called "biocatalysts" are needed to transform methane into liquid fuel. These small-scale processes could provide an environment advantage since they would be carbon neutral or better relative to traditional fuels.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
Calysta Energy will develop a new bioreactor technology to enable the efficient biological conversion of methane into liquid fuels. While reasonably efficient, Gas-to-liquid (GTL) conversion is difficult to accomplish without costly and complex infrastructure. Biocatalysts are anticipated to reduce the cost of GTL conversion. Calysta will address this by using computational fluid dynamics to model best existing high mass transfer bioreactor designs and overcome existing limitations. Calysta will make the newly developed technology available to the broader research community, which could help other research groups to quickly test and commercialize their methane conversion processes.
Potential Impact: 
If successful, Calysta's technology will enable low-cost conversion of natural gas at sources that are often difficult to access, by increasing the productivity of bioreactor systems.
An improved bioconversion process could create cost-competitive liquid fuels significantly reducing demand for foreign oil.
This technology would allow for utilization of small-scale remote natural gas resources or methane and carbon rich gas residues for fuel production reducing harmful emissions associated with conventional fuel technologies.
Expanding U.S. natural gas resources via bioconversion to liquid fuels could contribute tens of billions of dollars to the nation's economy while reducing or stabilizing transport fuel prices.
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Eric Rohlfing
Project Contact: 
Dr. Luan Nguyen
Celanese Corp.
Release Date: